Rainsy flies into storm over passport ban
A political standoff is set to erupt at Phnom Penh's Ponchentong airport this morning as popular exile Sam Rainsy returns despite an official bid to stop him entering the country.
Mr Rainsy vowed yesterday to return on French papers after the cancellation of his Cambodian passport and those of 13 other political exiles.
'I am going ahead as planned as it is my full right,' Mr Rainsy said in Bangkok as he prepared to leave.
'They have given no reason for this as there is no [acceptable] one.
'If they refuse my Cambodian passport, I will simply apply for an on-the-spot visa with my French passport.
'That is what I usually travel with anyway. They cannot stop me entering the country.' In a copy of an October 31 directive to Cambodia's Ambassador to Thailand, Eng Roland, obtained by the South China Morning Post, Phnom Penh's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared the diplomatic travel documents held by the exiles 'null and void'.
In a statement released yesterday by Mr Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party, secretary-general Yim Sokha said the Government had no right to deprive the politician of Cambodian citizenship.
'Sam Rainsy wants also to remind Hun Sen that he is an elected MP following the United Nations-organised election in 1993,' Mr Sokha said.
'We do not understand why on the one hand Hun Sen pretends to encourage the return of opposition leaders in exile, and on the other hand he ordered [newly elected First Prime Minister and Foreign Minister] Ung Huot to cancel their passports.' The 14 exiles were due to return to Cambodia under the protection of the UN to assess the political and human rights climate following Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's bloody grab for power in early July.
A series of meetings at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit had reiterated the international community's demands that all exiled political figures be allowed to return to Cambodia in order to participate in campaigning for elections scheduled for next year.
But without travel documents their return is now in doubt, despite reassurances from the UN senior representative to Cambodia and a declaration by Mr Hun Sen that they were welcome to return.
Mr Rainsy, who returns after nearly eight months in exile, said he intended to hold a 'prayer for peace' and a remembrance service at the site of a March 30 grenade attack which killed 17 of his supporters and injured more than 120 others.
He escaped injury but fled Cambodia after the attack, which foreign diplomats described as a clear attempt to kill him.